First, you need to understand the exact dimensions of the parcel of land you are evaluating. Next, call the local zoning department and ask them what the designated building setbacks are for the property in question (building setback requirements are very common, and are imposed as a way of giving order and consistency to the buildings in any given area). When you take these setbacks and regulations into account (relative to the size of this parcel of land), is there still enough room to build something worthwhile – or does it render the property useless? I've come across several properties that were designed (albeit, unintentionally) to be too small and after factoring in the setbacks – you can't build anything on them at all, leaving them virtually worthless!

This has got to be one of best articles out there about land investment. Thank you so much for the advises. I live in San Jose, CA and I am also looking into buying land myself to build a residential home on. I’m somewhat skeptical about it as i’m very new to this whole process and afraid i might be stuck on a parcel that is not build-able or would cost too much to develop. The parcel i’m looking at is currently zoned “commercial”, however, the surrounding area is heavily residential so i wonder if this was a city’s mistake. To avoid troubles down the road, I plan to hire a professional for all the permitting and developing advises/estimate (if you know anyone in the Bay Area that provides this type of service, could you please refer?) but I just don’t know how much i can completely close my eyes and just sign wherever i was told by the professional. Any advise will be much appreciated.
Having a knowledgeable professional on your side always helps when selling your lots and land. There are many benefits from having specialized expertise on board, so we encourage you to work with a real estate agent who specializes in lot and land sales. They will help you understand the market, set a price and market your land to the right buyers.
Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News. Since joining the Consumer Advice team in 2015, she has focused on breaking down the homebuying and selling process, as well as reporting on trends in the real estate industry and their effect on the public. Thorsby previously worked in research and communications for commercial real estate information company CoStar Group, and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where she worked for the student-run newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at dthorsby@usnews.com.
Alternatively, you could talk to the county health department about doing another perc test – just because it failed once doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible (though it is a fair indication that you won’t have much luck). You could also try investigating some alternative septic options, like building a mound septic system. I don’t have any experience with these, but it could be worth your while to investigate it further.
First, you need to understand the exact dimensions of the parcel of land you are evaluating. Next, call the local zoning department and ask them what the designated building setbacks are for the property in question (building setback requirements are very common, and are imposed as a way of giving order and consistency to the buildings in any given area). When you take these setbacks and regulations into account (relative to the size of this parcel of land), is there still enough room to build something worthwhile – or does it render the property useless? I've come across several properties that were designed (albeit, unintentionally) to be too small and after factoring in the setbacks – you can't build anything on them at all, leaving them virtually worthless!
Thanks Seth. Great ideas! Going after investors if you have a property that could be an attractive buy for them is something most people wouldn’t think of. Chances are, that if an investor isn’t in the market, he/she probably knows others who are. Forums are also a good idea as people will actually look at and read posts as opposed to other platforms where people scroll through without a car.

I have a brokerage in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee that focuses specifically in land, so what I have done is created a nationwide advertising service to attract more buyers. I advertise on several investor channels like CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox Business and then also channels watched by people interested in land and the outdoors like the Outdoor Channel.

Once we’ve received your signed agreement, we will begin our title examination on the property. We have a large network of established title companies, real estate attorneys, and real estate title professionals that will research the title to your property and help to arrange closing. All that is required is a few signatures on your end. There is no need to travel to complete the sale. Best of all, we pay for all the costs involved and arrange everything for you! It doesn’t get much easier than that.


1. I never use loans when I buy vacant land, because I’m able to get my properties very, very cheap (and I’m only able to do this because I know where/how to find motivated sellers). Most banks won’t lend directly on land UNLESS you have an immediate plan to build on it – and this is why seller financing can be such a helpful tool when selling land (because most buyers will need it in order to do the transaction).
I am looking at 95 acre property for hunting and camping listed at $132k in southerm PA, property will be timbered before sold and closest electric pole is approx 1/3 mile away from where i would build small cabin. I could use a generator since cost to run power would not be feasible. I am still interested but think the asking price is to much since this is not really a buildable property and has limited market value. typical buildable property with electric access is approx $2k an acre in the area. What should I offer? I was thinking possibly 95K?
 Overage. Put simply this is a right to receive future payments in respect of land which has been sold. It is sometimes known as a clawback. The right is triggered by the happening of a certain event, in this scenario often the grant of planning consent for development. There are many issues to consider here, beyond the scope of this note, but landowners need to think about what will constitute the trigger event, how long the overage agreement should last for, what the obligations of each of the parties should be, how the payment should be calculated and how this payment should be secured.
Very interesting read. I am looking at some desert land in both NV and AZ. They are between 40-80 acres each. My budget seems to afford places that either have an old well, or power at the lot line, but not both. Which utility do you feel is initially more critical to have of the two? I know adding a solar system or having power brought in is very cost prohibitive, so my thought was to go with the power on the lot. I figured I could always have water trucked in and stored in a tank since the properties are easily 2WD road accessible. I figure that buying property with an old well may be worthless and not worth the price increase of the property. And I have been reading that drilling a well is a gamble. Thanks in advance for some insight.
Hi Aracely – great question. You might want to contact the local planning and zoning department – ask them if you’re allowed to camp on the property and/or build whatever type of structure you’re planning to build. You’re right – most townships and cities (not the county necessarily) have different restrictions that come into play in different areas. You’ll probably find that the more rural areas have less and less restrictions, but generally speaking – you should always investigate, because some rules will most likely apply.
Great article. I’m having trouble finding information, as most of it is about buying and constructing right away. I’m looking for information on how to buy a rural piece of land 2-10 acres where I can camp on it for a couple of seasons to get the best site to build a little summer/fall shack to get away on the weekends. So I won’t be building right away, just ‘squatting’ on my own land for surveying purposes, see where the hottest/sunniest spots might be, etc. Do you have any advice on what regulations/restrictions I might come across? Is this a “depends on” on kind of thing, meaning, different counties/townships all might have different rules? Thanks again.

I think I’m in trouble….because I signed a contract for a 1.23 acre land and I haven’t ordered a perc test…the land couldn’t perc about 8 yrs ago according to the owner…. the piece of land is near other homes, that are build on an acre of land or more…. it is near a state park as well…. There is a stream called gunpowder that is near this area…. I am scared to death right now…. my contract doesn’t have a contingency to a perc test passing…it is full of trees too. So I know the land needs to be cleared… in your experience is there a way to cancel a contract or a way out….the contract has already been sent to a title company….. I need help asap…. thanks
  I used BHW to draft up legal contracts for my business. They were highly professional and provided me with exactly what I needed and offered excellent advice throughout. The work was completed promptly and I was kept updated throughout the whole process. I would like to thank Michael Lam for being so approachable and accommodating. I would definitely recommend this firm and will be more than happy to use their services in the future!
These can include a requirement that you dedicate part of “your” land that is in the road right-of-way to the local government, causing you now to be working with a smaller parcel. Other rules may require you to build or improve roads, sidewalks, curb and gutter and even to plant trees. In addition, you also may be required to install water and sewer connections and meters for the lots, or to pay capacity fees, impact fees and other assessments when adding the new homesites.
If a property doesn't have access to one or more of these staples of reasonable living, the property (for all intents and purposes) may not be considered build-able. After all, who would want to build a house where they can't flush the toilet or get access to clean water? If a property isn't build-able, you will lose a massive portion of the property’s usability, marketability and value. Since most people buy land with the intent building on it, you will definitely want to be aware of anything that could become an obstacle to that objective.
I am considering buying a quarter acre, to build a house for my retirement in a few years. I have never bought land before but it is in an area that will definitely increase in value over the next few years so I want to lock it down now and build the house I want later, rather than purchase a home and make payments in addition to my current home. Thanks for the tips on how to assess, my question is whether I should use a realtor and/or get a property appraisal. I will probably pay cash for the land. Thanks much!
"I've seen both buyers and sellers do this to try and gain some type of advantage in negotiations," says Robert King, a land agent with AlaLandCo; a native of Clay County, Alabama, he has over 10 years experience in marketing and selling property. "It rarely, if ever, works, and absolutely serves to drive the parties further apart." Also, don’t make a laundry list of everything that is wrong with a property you are trying to buy, cautions King. "You must like the property, or you would not have spent all that time figuring out everything that is wrong with it. That just puts the seller on guard and creates a personal barrier." When you impart your wealth of knowledge of all of the property's shortcomings to the other party, you are not likely to make a friend of the seller, says King. You want to be on friendly not adversarial terms with anyone you are negotiating with for the land deal.

Calculate all of the costs to bring the land up to the condition you would like. What is it going to cost you to build out the property? That is the cost of acquiring the land, the entitlement, the cost of construction of the land, the cost of marketing to people to build it up if it is a retail space, plus the cost it takes to secure any money (i.e., loans)? You also have to factor in a reserve for costs associated with things such as air conditioners, wall coverings, and so on, says Veissi. "Those things have a shelf life, so, they are going to take x amount of time before they need to be replaced."
If you truly are in a hot area, which it sounds, your land has already been researched and investigated and deemed not to be desirable to the surrounding developers. A one acre parcel in the realm of larger subdivisions going in is only desirable if it's IN THE WAY, or if your house is an eyesore that will affect the marketing of the bigger development (which I'm guessing your house is not an eyesore).
Offer owner financing. Land is usually hard to finance and if you're willing to take back a mortgage for the buyer, you'll expand the number of people who can buy your land. On the other hand, you're also taking the risk that the buyer won't make his payments and will default. To protect yourself, work with an attorney to draft strong legal documents that follow your state's laws and get as much money up front as is reasonably possible.
Sell your land to a speculative investor. Many areas have investors that will buy just about anything as long as it is cheap enough. These investors can close quickly, but will frequently offer you a very low price for your land. That's how they're able to move so fast -- they're getting a great deal. Investors usually won't require you to finance the land for them.
Once we’ve received your signed agreement, we will begin our title examination on the property. We have a large network of established title companies, real estate attorneys, and real estate title professionals that will research the title to your property and help to arrange closing. All that is required is a few signatures on your end. There is no need to travel to complete the sale. Best of all, we pay for all the costs involved and arrange everything for you! It doesn’t get much easier than that.
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